Deaf in the Story

Thanks to all who participated in the ‘Deaf in the Story’ knowledge exchange event organized by Heriot-Watt University’s BSL:UPTAKE project at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh yesterday. Wasn’t it great? We’re grateful to the Edinburgh Beltane project for the prize which enabled us to set up this event.

We took the event to the Storytelling Centre with the feeling that we are now in an important chapter in the story of British Sign Language. There are undoubtedly many challenges to the Deaf community – especially to the quality of education for deaf children – but there are exciting developments occurring, too. The proposed Bill to the Scottish Parliament to promote BSL is of huge significance and we’re proud that Heriot-Watt University is contributing to this process.

Stories are all about change and the journey we make together through life. One of the most fantastic aspects of ‘Deaf in the Story’ was the age-range of the visitors – from the youngest infant to the most senior citizens –representing every stage of life’s story. And I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking about the not-yet-born and about absent friends who fought for BSL in the past and were surely with us in spirit.

BSL:UPTAKE began life as a Scottish Funding Council pilot ‘Knowledge Exchange’ project. SFC wanted to encourage universities and government to communicate more effectively together. Heriot-Watt argued that this was good, but involving the Deaf community too would be even better: and SFC supported this ambition. For us, the knowledge exchange principle is simple – ‘If knowledge is worth having, it’s worth sharing’. And knowledge about BSL resides firmly in the community as well as in academia and public authorities.

‘Deaf in the Story’ also reminded us of the many ways in which we share what we know. University folk tend to think about analysis and teaching, but of course there is vital knowledge embedded in fiction, biographies, demonstration, symbolism and imagery.  As we saw, when we share in the creation and representation of knowledge, the results have a tremendous impact.

The stories on display at Saturday’s Knowledge Exchange café captured memories of the past and dreams for the future. They are vital to planning for the continuity of a proud Deaf identity. And the strength of BSL is utterly central to that aim.

So what shall we do together next?

Please keep in touch with and find out about our ongoing ‘EdSign’ open lecture series, featuring Deaf and hearing presenters from the UK and beyond, and news of other events, at

Heriot-Watt University is working to drive forward the cause of BSL in Scotland and across the UK, creating new opportunities for study, research and development of the BSL story. Watch this space!